With the Boston Bruins loss to the Florida Panthers Sunday evening, the 2017-18 regular season officially came to a close. Now, 16 teams will vie for the best trophy in all of sports, the Stanley Cup. Once again, the staff at FPC NHL got together for a roundtable discussion on the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Which first round matchup are you most looking forward to?
Glendon: Easily, the Bruins and the Maple Leafs. With the battle of the Keystone State a close second. The last time the Leafs and Bruins met up in the playoffs we witnessed a classic seven-game series. I suspect we will get much of the same this season as both teams are fairly evenly matched.
D’Abate: For me, the marquee matchup in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will be the Boston Bruins versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. While Boston has been touted as a Cup contender for much of the season, The Leafs enter this series having won three of four from the Bruins. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has done a masterful job of coaching a young and surprising Bruins team this year. However, the Bruins have been slow to start in many games this year. If the Leafs can start these games strong, this may be a hard-fought and exciting series.
Gesterling: Ducks versus Sharks. They have a long history and it should be a fairly even series. Both teams are pretty talented to go along with the rivalry.
Welcher: The battle of Pennsylvania is going to be a wonderful matchup. It isn’t exactly the friendliest of matchups in the first place, and the playoffs aren’t going to make them any friendlier. That’s what makes the NHL playoffs so special. Physical play for two months straight, and this is the type of rivalry that makes it even better.
Pagani: Kings Vs Golden Knights. It’s a rivalry in the making. The Golden Knights shocked everyone this season and the Kings are red hot. This series can realistically go either way.
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Do you see an upset of any division winner in the first round?
Glendon: I think the Golden Knights have far exceeded any sort of realistic expectations for their inaugural season. With that said, they got a really tough first round draw with the Los Angeles Kings. I think the magic runs out for the Golden Knights and they get eliminated in seven games.
D’Abate: While this might not be a major upset, I think that the San Jose Sharks will advance over the higher-seeded Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks played very well down the stretch, but the Sharks can skate with them each step of the way. Should Joe Thornton return, the Sharks would gain the advantage. This will be a great series, and I believe the Sharks take this one in seven.
Gesterling: I see Columbus beating the Capitals. The Blue Jackets are a very talented team. I don’t think it would be a huge upset honestly. And another one that I think will happen is the Kings beating out the Golden Knights.
Welcher: I don’t think there will be a division winner upset in round one, but if there were, I would have to say that it would probably be either Washington or Vegas. Washington is going against a fairly strong and well-rested Blue Jackets team that wants to get out of the first round for the first time in their history. Vegas is unproven up to this point and won a weak Pacific Division on the back of not being considered worthy competition. They have slid off the pace recently and is in more danger than they probably think of being upset.
Pagani: None. If anything the Blue Jackets take the Capitals to 7 games and find a way to win. Dubois is a great rookie and Bobrovsky is, well, Bobrovsky. The Capitals, well, are the Capitals. *Insert choke here*
Which player has the best chance to lead the league in playoff scoring?
Glendon: Brad Marchand has had one of his best seasons scoring despite missing nearly 20 games. Considering the Bruins are poised to make a deep run in the playoffs, it’s a safe bet that Marchand will lead the league in scoring.
D’Abate: At least in the early rounds, Nikita Kuckerov of the Tampa Bay Lightning should be the NHL’s most prolific scoring threat. Kucherov joined Edmonton Oilers center and 2017 MVP Connor McDavid in having at least 30 multi-point games. If the Lightning are to be a major force in this year’s playoffs, Kucherov will need to be on his game. Luckily for Tampa Bay, he should do just that.
Gesterling: Depending on how far Pittsburgh makes it, it will probably be Malkin. Patrick Laine, Nikita Kucherov, and Filip Forsberg could all also be candidates. This is a tough question to answer. But it is a good problem to have because it shows how much talent is in the NHL right now and that is awesome.
Welcher: I feel like Brad Marchand could lead in goals this postseason. He’s averaged a goal in every other game, and that type of production is really going to help the Bruins as they begin their run.
Pagani: Evgeni Malkin. He’s angry and there is nothing like an angry Geno. The last time he was angry going into the playoffs he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe trophy. He’s been angry at other points in his career, but this is the first time he’s been fired up going into the playoffs.
Which team has the biggest goaltending advantage heading into the playoffs?
Glendon: There are many angles you can take to determine a goaltending advantage. There are several that have a multitude of experience in the playoffs. Several netminders have won a cup or two. It is easy to say, Pekka Rinne, however, I am going to go with Jonathon Quick. No goalie in the last decade has been bigger when the most pressure is on. Two Cup runs under his belt doesn’t hurt either.
D’Abate: It’s hard to argue that Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators is not the most reliable goaltender in the NHL heading into the playoffs. Rinne is the front-runner for this year’s Vezina Trophy, and for good reason. He posts a .927 save percentage and a 2.32 GAA. Those are impressive statistics for any goaltender. He also happens to have a supporting cast of teammates in Nashville. If Rinne continues to wield a hot stick and glove, the Predators may be an awfully tough team to beat.
Gesterling: Nashville, the combination of defense and an elite goalie in Pekka Rinne is going to be hard to beat.
Welcher: The Predators are the frontrunners the cup, and it’s on the back of their two keepers Rinne and Saros. Rinne is the likely going to be the Vezina winner this season, being top 10 in the league in wins, shutouts, save percentage, and GAA. Saros hasn’t been too shabby either, with a save percentage very close to Rinne’s. This duo is ready for a run for Nashville’s first major sports championship ever.
Pagani: The Tampa Bay Lightning have Andrei Vasilevskiy who is having the best first season as a starter since the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury. He and Tampa Bay have everything it takes.
Who will meet in the Eastern and Western Conference Finals?
Glendon: In the East, the Boston Bruins will take on the Philadelphia Flyers with the chance to play for the Cup. Boston is a favorite to make it there, however, the Flyers will need to upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the first round to do so. And they will.
In the West, Nashville will battle the Los Angeles Kings in the Conference Finals. As mentioned before, Quick combined with a strong finish will propel the Kings to the third round against the heavy Cup favorite, Predators.
D’Abate: In the West, I see the Nashville Predators taking on the Vegas Golden Knights in what should be one of the more exciting matchups in the recent history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the East, the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins should meet in a great series as well. While the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning are seeded higher, the depth of the Bruins and the playoff savvy of the Penguins will be enough to carry them to the conference finals.
Gesterling: I will say Penguins versus Lightning in the East. They are both the most experienced teams in the Eastern Conference. Remember, the Lightning made the finals in 2015 against the Blackhawks. They know how to win. But do not sleep on the Bruins, I think they are going to cause some headaches and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Bruins represent the East this season but I am not going to predict it. I think they are too inexperienced. But I do think the Bruins have the depth to make future runs.
In the West, I say Nashville versus the Kings. Why the Kings? Because they are a good team and they have experience playing together and if Jonathan Quick can put together another playoff run the Kings will be tough to beat. I also think the Ducks can do some damage too. In the end, I see Nashville in the finals.
Welcher: In the East, I have Boston and Pittsburgh. Boston has been on a bit of a downward slide as of late, but they’ll likely stay at the top of their game as the playoffs start. Pittsburgh needs no introduction, as every team knows how dangerous they can be when they don’t have anything to play for. Just imagine what they’re going to play like when they realize that history is in their grasp.
In the West, I have Nashville and Anaheim in a rematch of last year’s WCF. These two teams make for some great physical hockey on any night, and with Anaheim thinking revenge, they’ll be a powder keg just waiting for their spark. Nashville will be that spark, on the back of some of the best depth in the league. They’ll be looking for history too on the franchise’s 20th anniversary.
Pagani: In the East, it will be Tampa Bay taking on Washington. Out West, Los Angeles takes on Nashville.